“Duty first, self second”
I hadn’t watched the film of The Queen since seeing it at the cinema back when it was released in 2006 and I have to say I quite enjoyed watching it again. Watching it at a time when admiration for the monarch is rather high given the celebration of her 50 years of service, it is a little hard to credit the way in which public opinion swung so viciously against her and the Royal Family in the aftermath of the death of Diana Princess of Wales and the hugely unexpected outpouring of public grief. Peter Morgan depicts a fictional account of the events that followed, though with so much still fresh in the mind, and documentary footage included in Stephen Frear’s film, there’s a sometimes uneasy mix of truth and fiction.
Central to the film is of course Helen Mirren’s Oscar-winning turn as the monarch, completely caught unawares by the shift in public mood and unable to seek refuge in the comfort of age-old protocol as the hands-on government of Tony Blair demands a different way of reacting than she has ever been used to before. Mirren is undoubtedly excellent, steering clear of outright impersonation and finding a vein of dry wit which makes the quieter moments of the film some of the best. She is aided by Michael Sheen returning to the role of Tony Blair, which he really has now made his own, as the PM who seizes the moment to lead the country and is determined to take the monarchy with him, kicking and screaming into a new era.
The film is perhaps weaker when it is reaching for moments of gravitas yet stops short of actually putting words into the Queen’s mouth. Thus we end up with a great line in inscrutable looks but little real sense of a person beneath the crown or any sense of the true human cost either of this particular crisis or her entire way of life. So a certain sense of emotional distance persists throughout the film, but in the end this is probably for the best as any attempt to flesh out the Queen herself would have come across as crass, barely credible and surely beyond the rescue of even as accomplished an actress as Mirren.,
The film is also brimming with theatrical spots: the blessed Helen McCrory gives us her Cherie, James Cromwell his Prince Philip, Alex Jennings his Prince Charles and Mark Bazeley his Alastair Campbell in three of my favourites. Roger Allam, Robin Soans, Tim McMullan and Gray O’Brien pop up in various guises around the palace. So a film that has largely endured well and at such an apposite time to revisit it, it went down rather well. I’m not sure if it has attained the classic status that means I would rush to see it again any time soon but if like me you haven’t seen it since it was released in the cinema, I’d say it is worth the time.